Be Like Lee

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Media Outlet: Slate

Earlier this month, it appeared that international Go champion Lee Sedol had become the latest uber-intellect crushed by the onslaught of artificial intelligence. Three games into their five-game matchup, Google’s A.I. program AlphaGo was undefeated. This story of machine victorious over man evoked another scene from 20 years earlier, when a wounded and confused Garry Kasparov lost an epochal chess showdown against IBM’s Deep Blue, signifying the end of human supremacy on the chessboard.

But many argued that Go was different. It is a dramatically more complicated game—a more human game—whose labyrinth could not be exhaustively mapped by a computer. Yet in the first three games, AlphaGo bludgeoned Lee with a calculating efficiency that mystified the 33-year–old Korean. Then in Game 4, Lee responded to the challenge of artificial intelligence with new tactics. He attacked AlphaGo, aggressively sought to hem it in, and in a transcendent moment of genius laid down a lone white pebble that one Go champion dramatically called the “hand of god.” He won.

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Levi Tillemann was a New America fellow, and the author of The Great Race: The Global Quest for the Car of the Future.